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Andris Nelsons conducts the TMC Orchestra in their first concert of the season. Photo: Hilary Scott

A Tanglewood Diary 2023 – July 7-16

Written by: David M. Rice

I spent ten days at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home, which brings performers, teachers, and students together, enabling music lovers to experience a wide range of musical activities while enjoying the beautiful surroundings that make this such a beloved place. During my stay in the Berkshires, I also was able to enjoy and appreciate several nearby museums and performing arts institutions. 

The concerts I attended included the BSO’s “Opening Night at Tanglewood” and Mozart’s Così fan tutte, both conducted by Andris Nelsons, both reviewed on the Classical Source and linked at the end of this article.

Saturday, July 8 – The Boston Pops – “Ragtime: The Symphonic Concert”

In the afternoon, I drove some fifteen miles to Becket, Mass. to take in a brilliant dance program by the Dutch National Ballet at Jacob’s Pillow, returning to Tanglewood in time for that evening’s performance by the Boston Pops Orchestra of “Ragtime: The Symphonic Concert” in the Koussevitzky Shed.

Keith Lockhart conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra and a stellar cast of vocalists in this debut performance of a new concert version of Ragtime, commissioned by the Pops to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the musical’s Broadway debut, as well as to honor (albeit belatedly, owing to the Covid pandemic) Keith Lockhart’s twenty-fifth year as conductor of the Pops. This adaptation was created by the show’s original authors — composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, who collaborated on a reduced score, and playwright Terence McNally, who transformed some aspects of the show into narrative form. These modifications, together with a new orchestration for symphony orchestra by Kim Scharnberg, based on the Tony-winning original by William David Brohn, combine to tailor the show for concert hall performance. McNally passed away in 2020 shortly after the adaptation’s completion, and this performance was dedicated to his memory. 

Ragtime, itself adapted from E.L. Doctorow‘s 1975 novel, provides commentary on American life at the beginning of the twentieth century by means of parallel glimpses into the experiences of three families, one white and well-to-do, one Black and facing injustice, and one of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, as well as the effect of the characters’ interactions as the plot develops. The story touches on issues that remain relevant today, such as racial justice, police brutality, immigration, xenophobia, and antisemitism. There are also set pieces based on famous events and incidents of that turn-of-the-century era, including cameo appearances portraying such influential figures as Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, Emma Goldman, Booker T. Washington, Stanford White, Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Houdini, and Arctic explorer Robert Peary.

The cast of nine principals is supported by an ensemble nearly two dozen strong, but the main plotlines revolve around three central characters. Broadway veteran Elizabeth Stanley gives a winning portrayal of Mother, who epitomizes women’s growing assertiveness and their emergence from domination by their husbands (‘What Kind of Woman’). It is her sympathetic humanity that ties the three families together, first by taking in a despairing Black mother, Sarah, and the newborn child she had abandoned and ultimately adopting the child after his parents have both been killed, and then by befriending Tateh, a Jewish immigrant and his young daughter (‘Our Children’). After Mother’s husband is lost on the torpedoed Lusitania, she falls in love with and marries Tateh. Their newly formed family is both ecumenical and interracial, symbolic of America as a melting pot society.

Alton Fitzgerald White, who starred in over four thousand performances of The Lion King on Broadway, is brilliant as Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a Black pianist whose love for Sarah (‘The Getting Ready Rag’) and aspirations for upward mobility (‘Henry Ford’) are shattered, driving him to seek justice on his own terms (‘Coalhouse’s Soliloquy’) with disastrous consequences. 

John Cariani, an actor with both Broadway and television experience, is Tateh, insecure and fearful when he arrives in New York from Latvia with his young daughter (‘A Shtetl Iz Amereke’), but who eventually becomes a successful filmmaker and finds happiness with Mother.

Lockhart and the Pops musicians (most of whom are members of the BSO) were terrific playing the new orchestral score, maintaining good balance with the (amplified) singers. Jason Daniely’s stage direction moved the action seamlessly from acene to scene, with Wendall Harrington’s projections helping to suggest the varied milieus in which the story takes place. 

Sunday, July 9 – BSO Matinee Concert

Today was a doubleheader. The BSO’s afternoon concert (Koussevitzky) began with the world premiere of Iman Habibi’s Zhiân, followed by Jessie Montgomery’s Five Freedom Songs, sung by Julia Bullock, and ended with Hilary Hahn’s performance of Brahms’s Violin Concerto. In the evening, Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center (TMC) gave a concert of vocal music in Seiji Ozawa Hall. 

The BSO’s matinee curtain-raiser, Habibi’s Zhiân for orchestra, was preceded by remarks by the composer. He explained that it was inspired by recent and ongoing protests in his native Iran and dedicated to the “brave people” of that nation. The title, “Zhiân”, translates to “life” in Kurdish, and to “indignant” or “formidable” in Persian, and is part of the protesters’ main slogan, the spoken rhythm of which forms the main motivic element of Habibi’s piece. (In a conversation after the performance, the composer explained that although he grew up with, and is implicitly influenced by, traditional Persian music, its different system of intonation makes it difficult, if not impossible, to incorporate directly into a piece for a western orchestra, such as Zhiân — “but I’m working on it,” he told me.)

An initial dark and foreboding aura is soon brightened by a lovely melody on the violins, echoed by winds and brass. A rich variety of instrumental colors, tempos and dynamics continues throughout. As the work’s characteristic rhythmic pattern persists in an extended passage, the strings carry the melody first, handing it off to horns and clarinet, then flute and piccolo. Later, after the trumpet summons the rest of the brass, they come to an abrupt halt, following which the violins play soft tremolos beneath woodwind vocalizations. Ultimately, the strings race forward, leading the way to a powerful climax, replete with pulsing brass, topped by the trumpets, and pounding bass drum and timpani. The piece proved quite entertaining and was enthusiastically applauded by the audience.

Jessie Montgomery also spoke before the performance of her Five Freedom Songs, describing her collaboration with soprano Julia Bullock over the past five years, as well as the work’s continuing evolution. Indeed, the order in which the songs were performed was changed even after the program books had gone to press. The work consists of settings for voice, percussion and string orchestra of traditional spirituals that reflect various aspects of the Black experience in America. The first song, ‘My Lord What a Morning’ is a celebration of God’s creation, but Bullock’s joyful vocal line there, ornamented by the glockenspiel, turned more mournful in ‘I Want to Go Home’ – a metaphor for both freedom in life and salvation after death. ‘My Father, How Long?’ expresses the impatient desire of those oppressed to be liberated, as well as their faith that “it won’t be long.” In the funereal ‘Lay dis Body Down,’ Bullock’s elaborate figurations in an ad libitum passage added impact to her words, and she sang out with vigor in ‘The Day of Judgment’ as the musicians clapped out a rhythm described by the composer as “based on a traditional West African drumming pattern”. Bullock’s rich, resonant voice perfectly supported her moving renditions of Montgomery’s settings. 

After intermission, Hilary Hahn gave an exceptional performance of Brahms’s Violin Concerto, with Nelsons and the BSO the perfect accompanists. The orchestral introduction, featuring fine oboe and bassoon solos, was taken with great force and vigor, but Nelsons was careful to avoid overpowering the solo violin’s delightful interplay with the violas and later with horn and various groupings of winds. Hahn consistently emphasized the sweetness of her instrument’s vocal lines, giving the lyrical second theme a dance-like feeling. The strings were superb in punctuating the soloist’s runs and arpeggios with a variety of their own pizzicatos, tremolos and bouncing bows. Nelsons struck an ideal contrast between respectful restraint when accompanying the soloist and forcefulness in tutti passages, with the brass quite prominent in the latter. Hahn’s extraordinary performance of Joachim’s cadenza went beyond a display of amazing virtuosity, shaping phrases to attain a level of musicality that outshone any of the many performances that I have experienced. John Ferrillo’s gorgeous oboe solo ushered in Hahn’s rich, lyrical intonation in the Adagio, with horn, winds and low strings offering interjections to accompany the violin’s melodic line. Hahn and Nelsons attacked the Finale with evident joy, giving its Gypsy-influenced rondo tune a rousing rendition. Her encore was ‘Through My Mother’s Eyes’ by Steven Banks.

Sunday, July 9 – TMC Vocal Fellows

Sunday evening’s concert in Ozawa Hall showed off the talents of some of the. one-hundred-fifty young musicians selected to participate as TMC Fellows in an intensive summer program of advanced study, instructed and mentored by a distinguished faculty of visiting artists and composers and members of the BSO. Most of the Fellows play orchestral instruments, and many will ultimately go on to positions in leading orchestras. However, the ranks of TMC Fellows also include singers, pianists, conductors, composers, and librarians. This concert spotlighted four Vocal Fellows, each ably accompanied by a “Vocal Piano” Fellow or, in one case, a string quartet comprised of Instrumental Fellows. 

I was particularly impressed by baritone Kevin Douglas Jasaitis in Charles Fussell’s ‘Being Music’, set to words from Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’. The excellent and quite interesting accompaniment was by a string quartet: Katia Tesarczyk and Alexandria Ott (violins), Kunjing Dai (viola) and Brandon Xu (cello). The vocal line ranged from spoken to sung, with gradations in between, all managed marvelously by Jasaitis. At one point, he vocalized “I hear the violoncello” and Xu responded with a solo passage on that instrument. 

Another highlight was soprano Eva Martinez’s juxtaposition of Ruth Crawford Seeger’s ‘White Moon’ (setting a Carl Sandburg poem) with Osvaldo Golijov’s ‘Lúa Descolorida’, with Gracie Francis providing beautiful piano accompaniments. Soprano Bridget Esler, accompanied by pianist Elias Dagher, had opened the evening with a fine traversal of four songs from Lili Boulanger’s ‘Clairières dans le ciel’, and mezzo-soprano Bella Adamova closed the concert on a delightful note with six songs by Charles Ives, with Corey Silberstein playing the piano – and also shouting out at one point in ‘The Circus Band’! 

Monday, July 10 – TMC Orchestra

In this TMC Orchestra concert in the Shed, orchestral Fellows performed four well-known pieces. Two works, one by Ravel and one by Stravinsky, were ably led by TMC Conducting Fellows, and the other two were conducted by Andris Nelsons. 

The concert began with Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso. Nelsons drew superb playing from the entire orchestra, with AJ Neubert’s bassoon solo a notable standout. Other fine solos were contributed by Anqui Zhou on oboe, Quentin Erickson on trumpet and Ji Weon Ryu on flute. Next came Stravinsky’s lively ballet score, Jeu de cartes, impressively led by Polish Conducting Fellow Agata Zając, who will be assistant conductor to Ludovic Morlot with the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra for the 2023-2024 season. Her steady, readable baton kept the players in sync, and she shaped phrases with hand and body gestures, bringing out accurately Stravinsky’s often quirky rhythms. Outstanding section principals included Bridget Pei, flute, and Sunho Song, clarinet.

The second half of the concert began with Canadian Conducting Fellow Armand Singh Birk leading Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite with assured poise. He expressively caressed Ravel’s gentle tunes, bringing each of the fairy-tale episodes to life. Bobby Nunes on oboe and Anqui Zhou on cor anglais collaborated marvelously to depict ‘Petit Poucet’ (Tom Thumb), and in ‘Les entretiens de la Belle et la Bête’ (Conversations of Beauty and the Beast), Ryan Turano plumbed acoustic depths on his contrabassoon. In the final section, ‘Le Jardin féerique’ (The Fairy Garden) the strings were especially lovely, accented by contributions from Olivia Chen, violin, Laia Barberà de Luna, harp, and Alexandre Tchaykov, celesta.

The concert concluded with an exciting reading of Debussy’s La Mer, with Nelsons again showing off the talents of the Fellows as they created a sparkling array of orchestral colors to depict waves, wind, and light. Among the excellent principals were Sean Marron (flute), Elias Medina (oboe), Yicheng Gong (horn), Robert Garrison (trumpet) and Abigail Kent (harp). Afterward, Conducting Fellows Zając and Birk returned to the stage along with Nelsons to an enthusiastic ovation. 

Tuesday, July 11

With no concerts scheduled at Tanglewood, I took the opportunity to visit the Clark Art Institute in nearby Williamstown for an exhibit of paintings by Edvard Munch, as well as re-visiting the Institute’s permanent collection, with its many works by Renoir and other impressionist painters. 

Wednesday, July 12 – Open Workshop with Erin Morley

In an afternoon master class in Studio E, soprano Erin Morley worked with four TMC Vocal Fellows, part of the interplay between Fellows and visiting experts that is a central focus of Tanglewood’s educational program. 

Although all four singers began with well-prepared and vocally excellent presentations of their chosen arias, Morley found ways to help them make further refinements. Baritone Kevin Douglas Jasaitis began the session with ‘Hai gia vinta la causa!’ from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, accompanied by William Shi. Morley worked with Jasaitis on using gestures and movement to better project Count Almaviva’s character and motivation. Next, mezzo-soprano Gabrielle Barkidjija sang ‘Wie du warst’, from Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Morley got her to experiment successfully with a different technique for forming some vowel sounds. Elias Dagher not only played marvelously, but also demonstrated the flexibility and adaptability that is a necessary talent for a vocal accompanist. 

Tenor Bradyn Debysingh started with a breathtaking rendition of ‘Un momento di contento’ from Handel’s Alcina. Morley’s focus on adjusting tempos and varying ornamentation proved fruitful for Debysingh, and Morley also was able to coax some subtle modifications to Gracie Francis’s superb accompaniment. The final singer, Yvonne Trobe, accompanied by Corey Silberstein, chose the ‘Song to the Moon’ from Dvořák’s Rusalka. Morley and Trobe worked on vowel and consonant formation and duration. At one point both women received a clarification on a fine point of Czech pronunciation from a Vocal Fellow from Prague who was in the audience.

In the evening I was back at Jacob’s Pillow, this time for a performance by Gauthier Dance.

Thursday, July 13 – Julia Bullock Recital

The start of this evening’s recital was delayed for about a half hour by torrential rain and wind that littered the ground with broken foliage and even felled some trees. Throughout the performance, lightning flashes could be glimpsed through the tall, narrow windows high above the stage at Ozawa Hall. Happily, this was the only time during my Tanglewood stay that weather interfered with a performance. 

Julia Bullock, who prefers to be called a “classical singer” rather than a soprano, performed a rather eclectic program, accompanied by pianist John Arida. Bullock opened with four German Lieder — two Schubert songs bookending two by Hugo Wolf, the second of which, ‘Bedeckt mich mit Blumen’, featured odd rhythms and harmonies, before singer and piano raced ahead in nearly patter-song fashion in Schubert’s ‘Rastlose Liebe’, with a grand postlude that ends with a bang, Next came a pair of gorgeous love songs by Connie Converse, the first, ‘There Is a Vine’, set in a beautiful garden, and the second, ‘One by One’, depicting lovers walking hand-in-hand at night. The latter led without a break into Kurt Weill’s ‘Lost in the Stars’, with Maxwell Anderson’s lyrics continuing the nocturnal theme. Outstanding idiomatic performances of three more Weill songs followed. Bullock captured the composer’s blend of speech and song in ‘Den wie man sich bettet, so liegt man’ from Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahoganny (The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny), Weill’s early collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, and she ended the group with ‘The Princess of Pure Delight’ from Lady in the Dark, singing and speaking Ira Gershwin’s clever lyrics. 

The first portion of the recital ended with Luciano Berio’s versions of three Italian folk songs interspersed with two settings by Rossini of the same Metastasio poem, ‘Mi lagnerò tacento’. The first and last of the Berio songs feature vocalise passages, and the second half of the program began with a vocalise by John Cage in which Bullock was accompanied by Arida performing on a ‘prepared piano’, causing notes at the high end of the keyboard to sound without sympathetic resonance. The improvisatory elements of Cage’s work aptly anticipated the jazz-influenced remainder of Bullock’s recital, beginning with her empathetic delivery of two Blues numbers: ‘Driftin’ Tide’, by Pat Castleton and Spencer Williams, followed by ‘Downhearted Blues’ by Cora “Lovie” Austin with lyrics by Alberta Hunter, in which Arida contributed delightful decorative figures. He then offered a solo piano rag — ‘Frog Tongue Stomp: A Lovie Austin Tribute’ in an arrangement by Jeremy Siskind. Bullock continued to feature works by women composers with a tender account of Billie Holiday’s ‘Our Love Is Different and a pair of songs by Nina Simone that make powerful commentary on racial injustice. ’Revolution’ was delivered in a cross between song and speech somewhat reminiscent of a just-heard Weill song. ‘Four Women’ tells the plight of abused women of color, identifying each of the first three narrators with a stereotypical name, but ends the angry fourth account abruptly without providing a name for its narrator. The program concluded with Billy Taylor’s ‘I wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free’, in which both piano and singer had passages without the other. In the final stanza, Bullock showed off the lovely high end of her vocal range and then allowed the final word, “Free” to fade away softly over delicate piano figures. As an encore, Bullock brightly waltzed us through Schubert’s ‘Seligkeit’.

Friday, July 14 – Boston Pops – ‘Two Pianos’ 

After taking in a matinee performance of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part 2 at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, I returned to the Shed for the Boston Pops.

In a program titled “Two Pianos: Who Could Ask for Anything More?” Keith Lockhart and the Pops were joined by pianist-vocalist Michael Feinstein and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet to celebrate the music of George Gershwin and his world. Feinstein is the most prominent curator and interpreter of the ‘Great American Songbook’, and Thibaudet has long included Gershwin’s music in his eclectic repertoire. Throughout the evening, the two took turns recounting anecdotes, exchanging quips, and commenting on the Gershwin legacy.

Lockhart and the Pops began the program with the overture to Gershwin’s Nice Work If You Can Get It, in an arrangement by Bill Elliott. After the pianists joined the orchestra in an excerpt from Rhapsody in Blue, they offered music by three other composers who had influenced or been influenced by Gershwin. Irving Berlin’s ‘I Love a Piano’, with Feinstein singing, Thibaudet playing, and the orchestra later joining in, was followed by a medley of waltzes by Richard Rodgers, all performed in arrangements by Tedd Firth. Next was ‘Pure Imagination’ by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, sung by Feinstein with keyboard contributions from both pianists. Thibaudet then took the spotlight with a dynamic performance of the Allegro agitato final movement of Gershwin’s Concerto in F, with Lockhart and the Pops providing jazzy colorations. Tedd Firth’s delightful, virtuosic arrangement of Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar’s ‘Tea for Two’ closed the first half of the program. 

After intermission, André Previn’s arrangement of the overture to the 1959 film of Porgy and Bess restarted the concert. Next was ‘Lucky to Be Me’ by Leonard Bernstein from his 1944 Broadway musical, On The Town (a collaboration with Betty Comden and Adolph Green), in an arrangement by Bill Evans and Feinstein. Singing at first from the keyboard, Feinstein then continued from a seat in front of the pianos as Thibaudet took over the instrumental line. and then gave a haunting performance of Alec Wilder’s ‘I’ll Be Around’, as arranged for piano by Bill Charlap.

The remainder of the concert was devoted to a “Gershwin Fantasy” — an extended medley arranged by Tedd Firth. It began with the famous clarinet riff that launches Rhapsody in Blue and ended with that work’s concluding passage. In between were interpretations of well-known Gershwin tunes, all with lyrics by his brother Ira. The varied renditions included singing by Feinstein, playing by one or both pianists, and orchestral contributions from the Pops. The playlist included ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’, ‘I Got Rhythm’, and ‘Embraceable You’, the latter opening with a lovely cor anglais solo and a dramatic harp arpeggio leading up to Thibaudet’s amazing interpretation. Other selections included ‘Fascinating Rhythm’, an excerpt from An American in Paris, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’ and ‘The Man I Love’, before returning to Rhapsody in Blue. For an encore, the soloists and orchestra offered Gershwin’s ‘Our Love Is Here to Stay’.

Sunday, July 16 – BSO Matinee Concert — Leonore 3 and Carmina Burana

My 2023 Tanglewood Experience ended with a bang: Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in an explosive performance by Nelsons and the BSO, vocal soloists Erin Morley, Will Liverman and Reginald Mobley, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and the Boston Children’s Chorus.  This followed a dramatic reading of Beethoven’s Third Leonore Overture that showed off the entire orchestra’s virtuosity.

In ‘Fortuna imperatrix mundi’ (Fortune, empress of the world) that begins Carmina Burana and is repeated at its conclusion, the orchestra and choruses plunged into the music at top volume, which made the contrast with the ensuing section, ‘Primo vere’ (In springtime), even more effective. After ‘Veris leta facies’ was gently sung by the children’s chorus, baritone Will Liverman made his first appearance with ‘Omnia Sol temperat’, and the large chorus gave a rollicking rendition of ‘Ecce gratum’. The orchestral dance that begins the next section, ‘Uf dem anger’ (On the Green), was infectious, and the two choruses’ alternation in ‘Floret silva’ was delightful in depicting a lover riding away into the distance. The section goes on to feature contributions from both choruses as well as orchestral segments and concludes with a trumpet fanfare and a choral exclamation.

The ’In taberna’ (In the Tavern) section, brought Liverman at the forefront, excelling first in ‘Estuans interius’ and later as the Abbot of Cockaigne in ‘Ego sum abbas’. In between, countertenor Reginald Mobley gave a brilliant portrayal of a swan being roasted alive in ‘Olim lacus colueram’, introduced superbly by Richard Svoboda’s bassoon solo. As the men of the chorus sang of toasts and drinking, Will Hudgens’ interjections with the ratchet stood out among the many percussion instruments.

The mood changed sharply in the ‘Cour d’amours’ (The Court of Love) section, as Morley made her first vocal appearance, joining the children’s voices in ‘Amor volat undique, characterized by delicate flute figurations. She was resplendent in ‘Stetit puella’, depicting a red-dress-clad beauty, and sang with great depth of feeling in the gorgeously lyrical ‘In trutina’. Soon afterward, she capped off her contributions with a high-pitched and melismatic ‘Dulcissime!’. 

Liverman showed off the beauty of his voice at the top of its vocal range in ‘Dies, nox et omnia’, and again in ‘Circa mea pectora’, with the chorus echoing him and interjecting a repeating refrain. A leering account of ‘Si puer cum puella’ by a sextet of male choristers, was followed by the fast-paced choral segment ‘Veni, veni, venias’, sung to an accompaniment by two pounding pianos and a diverse collection of percussion instruments. Liverman and Morley joined both choruses in ‘Tempus est iocundum’, again accompanied by two pianos and percussion. Chorus and orchestra were glorious in ‘Blanziflor et Helena’, which would have served as a magnificent finale had Orff not chosen to reprise ‘Fortuna imperatrix mundi’. 

This summer’s visit to Tanglewood has further deepened my appreciation of how the future of music is shaped by succeeding generations of musicians collaborating with one another under the mentorship of BSO members and visiting faculty.

Romsey Chamber Music Festival 2023. Photo: Terrence Jamieson

Romsey Chamber Music Festival 2023 – May 30-June 4

Written by: David Truslove

Held annually since 2018, the Romsey Chamber Music Festival is one of Hampshire’s best-kept musical secrets. This year’s six-day festival, comprising ten events, featured repertoire given by an international group of conservatoire-trained musicians (Amsterdam, Berlin, Harvard, Helsinki, London) brought together by the initiative of Laura Rickard, the Festival’s founder and artistic director. The central focus was the Belgian composer and virtuoso Eugène-Auguste Ysaÿe (1858-1931), whose celebrated Sonatas for Solo Violin were completed during July 1923 as his Op.27.

Alongside Ysaÿe, familiar landmarks included Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin, Elgar’s Piano Quintet and Ravel’s Tzigane, each performance confirming the credentials of these young professionals. Lesser-known works brought fresh perspectives on Enescu, Saint-Saëns and the Boulanger sisters. Choice and variety of repertoire is enabled by the festival’s nine principal players, all award-winning instrumentalists, who share duties – three violinists, three viola-players and two cellists each having different responsibilities, with pianist Ziteng Fan a vital unifying presence.

I caught up with events on Day 3 at Romsey’s United Reformed Church to hear three works of which Ysaÿe’s atmospheric Amitié, Op.26, brought accumulating interest. In this reduced version for two violins and piano, Emma Roijackers and Laura Rickard perfectly caught its Gallic charm, its cordial exchanges offset by an excursion into bitonality that proved to be the most rewarding element, its salon-like rumination outstaying its welcome. Like Ysaÿe, his Belgian compatriot Henri Vieuxtemps was another acclaimed violinist and considered the foremost exponent of the Franco-Belgian school. His three- movement Viola Sonata, Op.36, could have no more sensitive advocate than Sofia Sousa Silva. She thoroughly immersed herself in its glowing lyricism (especially in the variation style Barcarolle) and the more muscular Finale. Elgar’s Piano Quintet, Op.84 was equally involving, its mystery, tenderness and dramatic intensity clearly outlined in an account governed by an innate receptivity to this haunting masterpiece.

On the afternoon of Day 5, Fan, Rickard, Sào Soulez Larivière (viola) and Rainer Crosett (cello) illuminated the delicate and combustible qualities of Fauré’s Piano Quartet No.2, Op.45. It’s a tremendous workout for the pianist who carries much of the burden of the two movements marked Allegro molto. But this was a collaboration with each member knowing just when to assume the limelight or slip into the shadows. Earlier, there had been a String Trio by Jean Françaix and a recent work by Adrian Sutton (renowned for War Horse) whose Renaissance-inspired Trio Dances had premiered at the 2021 Presteigne Festival.  Pastiche here, but none the worse for that, art concealing art and played with absolute fidelity to its inherent Englishness. Leaving the most vivid impression was Ysaÿe’s Sonata No.5, each of its two movements dispatched with depth of feeling and revelatory flair by Luke Hsu. Highlights from the evening’s concert included Piazzolla’s Tango del Diablo, Gade’s Jalousie, and part of Rodrigo’s Sonata Pimpante, its long-breathed lines utterly beguiling.The final concert provided a gratifying account of Nadia Boulanger’s Three Pieces for Cello and Piano, where charm and rhythmic impetus was to the fore. Ysaÿe’s sepia-tinged String Quintet in B-minor, Op.15, was a little too reliant on soul-searching notwithstanding an affectionate outing. But it was a barnstorming performance of Brahms’s Piano Quintet, Op.34, that set the seal on proceedings. Here was playing of such passion and authority one might have thought its quasi-orchestral textures belonged to Beethoven. Nowhere have I heard this work played with such vigour. What a little gem this festival is!

Leonard Slatkin

A Conductor’s no-nonsense response to a tempo dilemma

Written by: Leonard Slatkin

We are all influenced by our first exposures to greatness. Whether it is a person, structure or work of art, those initial contacts inform us for the rest of our lives. But, once in a while, we are forced to look at those elements in a different way, and sometimes the result can be dramatically different from our original thoughts.

These days, in addition to my conducting activities as well as writing both music and prose, I am engaged in what I hope will be a valuable project for anyone interested in the methodology involved when conducting the masterworks of the orchestral literature. Among the pieces that I examine is the Fifth Symphony by Shostakovich. The essays are not supposed to be about speculation but rather a practical guide as to how these works should be studied and led.

But sometimes it was impossible to avoid certain issues surrounding particular passages and occasionally a whole work. Readers of Classical Source and Colin’s Column will not need me to tell them of the history behind this specific symphony. However, for the purposes of what I am about to write, we have to throw out the millions of words written regarding ideology and politics.

Perhaps the single most controversial tempo in all music centers on the last pages of the Russian master’s work. In tonight’s concert with the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra, I give a little demonstration of how the coda has unfolded over the years. To do this, it was necessary to see, as always, what the composer wrote. What we find is that the last section has a metronome mark of crochet (quarter note) equals 188. This means that there are that number of beats over the course of one minute. 

But all you have to do is listen or watch any recording made by the conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky, who gave the world premiere of the work, to see that he hardly follows this instruction. It is a slow, almost dignified approach, one that he would maintain throughout his career. Although the piece was given its first performance in 1937, it took a few years to commit to disc, even though the work was immediately popular and became standard repertoire all over the world. He can be seen conducting in four but quite contrary to the indicated marking. 

Only a few years later, for reasons that are unclear, most conductors during the 1950s, including Eugene Ormandy, one of the composer’s strongest advocates, found them taking this ending with the minim (half note) equaling around 72 or so. So not only had the tempo changed, but this portion was also now conducted with two beats to the bar as opposed to four.

Enter Leonard Bernstein, who took the work to Russia on a tour with the New York Philharmonic in 1958. With the composer present, he dashed off the coda with the minim at around 104 and even faster in some performances. And Shostakovich was beaming, praising the performance. It appears that he liked the way everyone did his music. Conductors have varied over the ensuing years, between the three tempos cited, with Rostropovich leading the way on the slower end of speed.

Why has there been so much difference and is there a real truth out there?

As mentioned, I am not going to go to the social or political reasons, which may or may not have anything to do with this. Instead, I am going to place the blame, as some others have suggested, on the publisher. But mine is not the usual criticism.

As mentioned, the marking that was passed down was that the crochet equaled 188. Not only was this ridiculously fast, but it is also almost impossible to move your arms at this speed. The argument is that it was misread and should have the quaver (eighth note) at this tempo. That really doesn’t make sense either, at least for conducting purposes, but it would place the crochet at 96, which is reasonable but still quite a bit faster than Mravinsky. 

Bernstein must have also thought it was a misprint, but he went the other way and thought that the half note was the indication intended, not the quarter. Coupling that with halving the 188 marking, one can see how he came up with his then, and still now, radical solution. Half note is at least 96 in this way of thinking.

I have another thought. What if the misprint was that the number 1 before the 88 was the culprit? If we eliminate that, then we have the crochet at the two digits, not three, which is certainly logical. It places the tempo much closer to Mravinsky and still allows Bernstein his belief that there is a second error with the note value.

Can it really be that simple? A mistake on the part of the publisher, consisting of an added digit? 

Yes. And it still affords others the opportunity to come up with their own solutions.

When it is all said and done, however, there is only one thing we need to know. The piece is called Symphony No.5, period.

Tonight, Feb 10:

MSM Symphony Orchestra Conducted by Leonard Slatkin (HonDMA ’13)


Fedoseyev’s solution:http://www.colinscolumn.com/how-to-best-end-shostakovichs-fifth-symphony/

Franz Welser-Möst. ©Julia Wesely

The Cleveland Orchestra in South Florida, January 2023. Franz Welser-Möst conducts Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ & Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’; Bernd Richard Deutsch’s Intensity, Respighi’s Feste romane & Lisa Batiashvili plays Tchaikovsky

Written by: David M. Rice

Venues: Dreyfoos Concert Hall, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, West Palm Beach, January 23; Knight Concert Hall, Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami, January 27

The Cleveland Orchestra’s annual residency at Miami’s Arsht Center concluded with two programs. I attended a repeat performance of the first January program at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, and I heard the second program at the Arsht. (The residency also included music by Debussy and Mahler conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas in November as well as daytime concerts for Miami public school students.). Hearing the Orchestra twice within a five-day span provided an opportunity to compare the two concert halls that lie some seventy miles apart.

I have enjoyed the fine acoustics of both venues for many years, but I was particularly struck on this latest visit to the Knight by its intimacy and the warmth of sound produced by the Cleveland ensemble. Although the two halls have about the same seating capacity, they function differently for their respective arts centers. The Knight is the smaller of the Arsht’s two main spaces, with opera, theatre and ballet performed in the adjacent Ziff Ballet Opera House, whereas the Dreyfoos serves as the Kravis Center’s venue for all such performances as well as for concerts, thus requiring a wider stage and seating area. The Knight’s narrower, ‘shoebox’ configuration and the absence of a proscenium bring listeners closer to the performers and, along with its mostly wooden surfaces, seems to produce a very warm acoustic.

The January 23 program at the Kravis Center consisted of Schubert & Tchaikovsky Symphonies. Throughout, the strings, especially the cellos, were outstanding. The excellent winds offered melodic solos and, whenever the strings receded from the forefront, engaged in pleasing conversation. Clarinet and oboe solos voiced lyrical themes in the Schubert, with bassoon and flute more prominent in the Pathétique. The brass was superb leading the way in generating the most climactic moment at the end of the Pathétique’s martial third movement, with Welser-Möst, to his credit, managing to stem the inevitable, but unwanted, tide of applause without delaying the onset of the Finale. The strings were all but weeping as they evoked the composer’s Adagio lamentoso marking. It is quite unusual for each work on a program to end, borrowing a phrase from T. S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, “not with a bang, but a whimper,” but Welser-Möst brought it off admirably. This quiet ending is especially poignant since Tchaikovsky died nine days after conducting its premiere.

The Clevelanders’ second program, heard at the Arsht, was constructed with much greater diversity. It also advances the cause of introducing audiences to the output of contemporary composers. Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto lies squarely within the Romantic tradition. Lisa Batiashvili gave it a fervent reading, marked by richness and variety of tone and brilliant virtuosity, particularly evident in the first-movement cadenza. Her 1739 Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ instrument sang out sweetly in the Canzonetta, and she attacked the folk-dance inspired Finale with delightful gusto. Welser-Möst made the orchestra a perfect accompanist, playing with precision and delicacy, and never overpowering or upstaging the soloist.

The second half featured two pieces for large orchestra composed a century apart if having some common characteristics. Austrian Bernd Richard Deutsch, the Cleveland Orchestra’s Young Composer Fellow, wrote Intensity on a commission from the Cleveland and the Wiener Symphoniker. Its three movements alternate fast and slow tempos, with the contemplative central one the longest in duration. The work’s soundscape is quite eclectic, with contributions from English horn, contrabassoon, piano and celesta as well as a wide range of percussion that create some of the more entertaining and witty moments, as when a slide whistle is given several solos. The outer movements are, for the most part, fast-paced and quite episodic, with rapid changes from one brief segment to another. The composer envisions the music as a progression from a departure, to introspection during absence, and finally, to a return.

The concert ended with Respighi’s Roman Festivals, composed in 1928 as the third in the composer’s triptych, which also pays homage to The Eternal City’s Fountains and Pines. A program is explicit, portraying four festive occasions in ancient and modern Rome. The orchestration is as varied as in Deutsch’s piece, and at times the music seems to jump from one mood to another in rapid succession, not too much differently from what had just been heard before. Welser-Möst placed three trumpets on a gallery behind and above the stage to herald the arrival of the gladiators in ‘Circenses’ (Games of the Circus Maximus), but the lament that came soon afterward serves as a reminder that their combat was to the death. The two middle movements featured lovely solos on horn and mandolin, respectively, and the final movement, ‘La Befana’ (The Epiphany), depicting the gathering of celebrants in the Piazza Navona, was an overwhelming cacophony of sound and counter-rhythms that brought a powerful conclusion.

Photo: BSO Press Office

A Tanglewood Diary 2022 – July 7-16

Written by: David M. Rice

I spent ten days at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home, which brings performers, teachers and students together, enabling music-lovers to experience a wide range of activities and also to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Thursday, July 7 / Thursday, July 14, Seiji Ozawa Hall

The first of a three-part series curated by Emanuel Ax, with a “Pathways from Prague” theme, combining his career-long devotion to Antonín Dvořák’s compositions with a newly discovered affection for the music of Leoš Janáček.

In the first half, Ax partnered Paul Appleby’s stirring rendition of Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared. As much a drama as a song-cycle, it is the first-person narrative of Janík, a young Czech farmer who becomes infatuated, obsessed, and ultimately seduced by Zefka, a dark-skinned Roma woman. Contralto Emily Marvosh made a captivating Zefka, interacting with Appleby to depict the two characters’ initial encounter and ensuing sexual liaison, as an offstage Greek chorus (sopranos Sarah Brailey & Sonja Tengblad and mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski) offered sweetly harmonized commentary and advanced the narrative. Appleby convincingly expressed Janík’s feelings of guilt and shame at the forbidden relationship, stating that he would sooner cut off his little finger than have Gypsy in-laws. Yet, declaring that no one can escape his fate, he ultimately bids farewell forever to his family, home and village to leave with Zefka, who has borne his child. Ax brilliantly colored the poetic text’s many depictions of nature – birds, fireflies, trees, the darkness of night and the light of dawn – as well as illustrating Janík’s touching, one-sided conversations with his team of oxen and adding emphasis to his dramatic emotional outbursts. In a mood-changing interlude, alternately dance-like and thunderous, Ax set the stage for Janík’s acceptance of the inevitability of his leaving with Zefka. As he departs with her at the cycle’s end, he repeats that no-one can escape his fate. English translations of the Czech text were displayed on video screens.

The second half was the Dover Quartet’s reading of Dvořák’s String Quartet No.13 in G (Opus 106), composed soon after his return to Prague from his three-year sojourn in America. This work has little of the nationalistic flavor that colors its famous predecessor, the Twelfth (‘American’) Quartet, and many of his other compositions, placing it closer to contemporaneously prevailing European compositional styles. The Dover musicians (Joel Link & Bryan Lee, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, and Camden Shaw) excelled in shaping and coloring Dvořák’s beautiful melodies, deftly managing changes of mood and mode. All four displayed impressive technique.

The second recital featured part-songs and piano music by Janáček and Dvořák, with some American music inspired by Dvořák thrown in for good measure. The eight singers of the low-voice ensemble Cantus led off with six Janáček songs, with themes ranging from religion (‘Veni Sancte Spiritus’ and ‘Ave Maria’ – Lord Byron’s poem, not the Catholic prayer) to love and parting, war and peace. The four tenors, two baritones and two basses superbly negotiated Janáček’s intricate counterpoint and harmonies.

Next, Mackenzie Melemed offered a sensitive reading of Janáček’s Piano Sonata, 1.X. 1905, (From the Street…), written as a tribute to a young man slain as he demonstrated in the composer’s hometown of Brno, advocating creation of a Czech-speaking university there. Before it was ever performed, Janáček burned the third movement, and later threw the first two movements into the Vltava, but fortunately a copy had been preserved by a student of the composer. The opening movement, ‘Foreboding’, is dominated by falling figures and punctuated by potent outbursts, but it turns more pensive at the end, setting the mood for ‘Death’, suggestive of a funeral march, replete with tolling bells, that grows in harmonic complexity and dramatic intensity until the cortege resumes its measured pace and finally fades away.

Emanuel Ax joined Melemed for a rousing rendition of five Dvořák Slavonic Dances, three from Opus 46 (1, 7 & 8), and two from Opus 72 (2 & 7). These marvelous works are best-known in their orchestral settings, but the four-hands versions exude a joyful energy that beckons listeners to the dance floor. Melemed voiced gorgeous melodic lines and sparkling ornaments as Ax, seated to his left, provided a strong rhythmic and harmonic bass line, venturing some melodies as well.

In the second half, Cantus offered eight Dvořák songs, the first five a cappella, the others with Ax and Melemed. ‘The Song of a Czech’ became a sort of anthem in the struggle for Czech nationhood, and the concluding number is based on the Largo from the ‘New World’ Symphony. The Largo had been inspired by African-American music, and Dvořák in turn inspired Harry T. Burleigh, an African-American composer whose settings of two negro spirituals, ‘Deep River’ and ‘Ezekiel Saw de Wheel’ were given touching performances by Cantus. 

The concert came to a delightful end with three selections from Dvořák’s Opus 43 Bouquet of Slavonic Folk Songs, combining expressions of human emotions with references to nature. In the first two, ‘Grief’ and ‘Strange Water’, the pianists for the most part focused on supporting the vocalists’ melodic lines with embellishments, harmony and counterpoint, but in the final song, ‘The Girl in the Grove’, Ax and Melemed led off with the melody and continued as full partners in telling the song’s sad tale.

Regrettably, my Tanglewood stay will end before the final recital, Koussevitzky Shed on August 12, Ax joined by Pamela Frank, Leonidas Kavakos, Antoine Tamestit, and Yo-Yo Ma.

Friday, July 8, Koussevitzky Music Shed, BSO Opening Concert

To begin, Andris Nelsons led a sensitive rendition of Opening Prayer, composed by Leonard Bernstein for the 1986 first-night of the renovated Carnegie Hall. After fine solos on trumpet, oboe, harp and bassoon, and a sweetly lyrical melody on the strings, baritone Jack Canfield richly intoned – in Hebrew – the threefold priestly benediction from Numbers 6:24-26, punctuated by interjections from the harp. The performance ended gloriously with Canfield holding the high final note, on the word “Shalom” (Peace), for what seemed an eternity as the trumpet softly recalled the fanfare that had begun the work.

Then a change, http://www.colinscolumn.com/pianist-yuja-wang-replaces-jean-yves-thibaudet-for-opening-night-at-tanglewood/, allowing Yuja Wang a bravura performance, showing off her brilliant technique. She attacked the keyboard with plenty of power, yet her agile fingers often moved so rapidly that they literally became a blur. Nelsons and the BSO launched the Concerto with a forceful declaration of the pervasive principal motif and contributed strong tuttis throughout. Although at times Wang rushed through scales and runs, she struck a more contemplative mood in the Quasi adagio, left-hand arpeggios subtly balanced beneath the exquisite melody. The Allegretto vivace, heralded by a triangle, was delightfully playful, and the Finale’s variations on a jaunty march tune gave Wang ample opportunities: trading fanfares with the brass, playing sparkling figures accompanied by pizzicatos, and juxtaposing dazzling pyrotechnics with the orchestra’s melodic line. Wang’s encore was spectacular: Vladimir Horowitz’s Variations on a Theme from Carmen.

Following intermission, Nelsons led a powerful account of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The opening bassoon solo was gorgeous, the winds all excelled in the ensuing passages, and Nelsons ably directed the wildly irregular rhythms. The beauty of the sounds led me to wonder whether I had heard this work so many times that it no longer had the ability to shock. That thought was short-lived, however, as Nelsons brought the music back to a raw, cutting edge, and J. William Hudgins was particularly brilliant in generating an incredible variety of timbres from a bass drum, providing critical driving force to propel the music, jolting it out of complacency time and time again. Other noteworthy contributions included heartrending throbbing from the second violins and violas, exclamations from bass and E-flat clarinets, and outbursts from the brass. Nelsons’s carefully managed chaos was at its most effective toward the finish, depicting the sacrificial virgin dancing herself to death.

Saturday, July 9, Shed

The BSO’s second concert comprised American music, mostly from the 1930s and 1940s. But first came a new work, Motherboxx Connection, by Carlos Simon, originally written as the first movement of a larger work. Simon’s eclectic compositions, some of which have been commissioned and performed by the BSO, reflect influences from pop and gospel, as well as classical music. Motherboxx is a sentient, all-intelligent computer that is particularly attuned to Black experience and culture. The music is generally fast-moving, with brass and percussion instruments prominent from the outset. There was driving energy and potent chords from the strings, chattering by the winds, and powerful brass fanfares.

Soprano Nicole Cabell was the soloist in Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, composed in 1947. This classic work captures, from the perspective of a young child, the slow pace of summer life in the pre-World War I American South. Cabell’s singing was lovely, but the orchestral sound, although itself quite beautiful, tended to overbalance the vocal line, making it difficult at times to discern James Agee’s words. (Fortunately, the text was provided in the printed program, but supertitles would have been welcome.) 

Duke Ellington’s New World A-Coming followed the intermission, with Aaron Diehl, a composer-pianist with extensive experience in the worlds of both classical music and jazz, proving an ideal soloist. This is one of several long-form works that Ellington composed for a series of Carnegie Hall concerts and is intended to reflect everyday life in Harlem in the 1940s. The concert version performed here is an arrangement by Maurice Peress. The piano was augmented by jazz drummer Aaron Kimmel and bassist David Wong. Diehl introduced each of the melodic themes, developing them with complex harmonies and flashy scales and runs. Orchestral accompaniments and interludes were often reminiscent of the ‘Big Band’ era in which Ellington played a monumental role. Diehl and his trio partners joined in a lengthy encore: John Lewis’s Milano. The concert ended with the BSO giving George Gershwin’s An American in Paris, complete with authentically tuned Parisian taxi horns!

Sunday, July 10

Today was a doubleheader. The BSO’s matinee (Shed) began and ended with Rachmaninov: the lushly melodic Vocalise and his Third Symphony. In between came the American premiere of Helen Grime’s Trumpet Concerto, night-sky-blue, with HåkanHardenberger, a regular visitor to Tanglewood, the brilliant soloist. Grime also has long-standing ties to Tanglewood, having been a Composition Fellow in 2008. In pre-performance remarks she revealed that the Concerto’s pervasive nocturnal darkness (and its title as well) were inspired by having experienced at night the White Garden at Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. 

The trumpet begins muted but plays unmuted for much of the piece. Grime gives it more and more intricate versions of the initial motif, while driving the instrument into increasingly higher registers, all dashed off by Hardenberger with aplomb. The orchestration is spectacularly colorful, with the trumpet at times engaged in a dialogue with the orchestra. A particularly distinctive and interesting feature is having a pair of orchestral trumpets interact repeatedly with Hardenberger, joining in or commenting on its ideas, and sometimes even taking over and completing a phrase left unfinished by the soloist. The pace of the music quickens as the rapidly chattering trumpet is accompanied by ever faster figures in the strings, flute glissandos and loud thumping from the basses, but the cacophony stops abruptly, yielding to soft trombone and gentle strings, with the trumpet muted again. After the performance, I had a chance to ask the composer whether, as I suspected, she had composed the Concerto during Lockdown. No, she replied, that was when she was having a new baby and was busy home-schooling her older child. So much for my unfounded speculations!

After intermission, Nelsons and the BSO made a strong case for giving greater exposure to the seldom performed, but quite beautiful, Rachmaninov Third Symphony in A-minor (Opus 44). A thematic motto pervades the first two of the Symphony’s three movements and is related to the ‘Dies irae’ theme that increasingly dominates the Finale. Nelsons and the BSO brought out the sadness and joy evoked by Rachmaninov’s melodies as well as the propulsive energy of rhythmic passages.

Sunday evening’s concert was in Studio E, located in the Linde Center, the educational heart of the Tanglewood campus. Each summer, one-hundred-and-fifty young musicians are selected to participate as TMC Fellows in an intensive program of advanced study, instructed and mentored by a distinguished faculty of visiting artists and composers and members of the BSO. Most Fellows play instruments; however, the ranks of TMC Fellows also include singers, pianists, conductors, composers and librarians. This concert spotlighted six Vocal Fellows, with two great singer-educators, Dawn Upshaw and Stephanie Blythe – to observe and encourage their young charges. 

Although all the singers and their accompanists gave fine performances, I was particularly impressed by tenor Edmond Rodriguez’s elegance of phrasing and controlled dynamics in five songs by Amy Beach, and violinist Sage Park and pianist Bethany Pietroniro were his excellent accompanists; soprano Emily Helenbrook and pianist Corey Silberstein perfectly captured the simple beauty of George Crumb’s Three Early Songs; the final set, comprised of songs by Charles Koechlin, was deliciously sung by soprano Elizabeth Polese, with You Zhao at the piano. Polese’s fluent French and her flair for ‘selling’ these mostly humorous songs made this a perfect ending for an evening of terrific singing. 

Monday, July 11

In this TMC Orchestra concert (Shed), Fellows performed four well-known pieces. Two were ably led by conducting Fellows, and the other two were works by Richard Strauss with Andris Nelsons. Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin was beautifully led by Rita Castro Blanco, who has conducted several orchestras in her native Portugal and served for three years as principal conductor of the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra. She showed fine technique and kept the orchestra in excellent balance. The playing was outstanding, with oboe solos by Alexander Mayer especially noteworthy. Next was Strauss’s Tod und Verklärung in which Nelsons drew superb playing to depict the dying hours of a man who has led a fruitful life, striving to achieve an artistic ideal. There were fine solos by Elias D. Medina on oboe and Dominique Kim on flute, and the brass was terrific. 

After intermission, Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony was led with assured poise by Nicolò Foron, principal assistant conductor of Ensemble Intercontemporain and winner of the 2021 International Conducting Competition Bucharest. The orchestra responded marvelously. The concert concluded with an exciting reading of ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ from Strauss’s opera, Salome, with Nelsons again showing off the talents of the Fellows. 

Tuesday & Wednesday, July 5 & 6

With no concerts scheduled at Tanglewood, I took the opportunity to enjoy other cultural attractions in the Massachusetts Berkshires – a visit to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown for an exhibit of Rodin sculptures, and a dance performance at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket.

Friday, July 15

After a week of more-serious fare, I was delighted to attend a screening of George Lucas’s film, The Empire Strikes Back, with an indefatigable Keith Lockhart with the Boston Pops Orchestra, comprised mostly of members of the BSO, played the score composed by John Williams – Lockhart’s predecessor as principal conductor of the Pops. Hearing the score performed live made the film much more exciting, especially in its militaristic scenes, featuring terrific playing by the brass and percussion. Also noteworthy were outstanding horn solos by Richard Sebring, mostly associated with Yoda. An audience of several-thousand nearly filled the seats in the Shed and sprawled across the vast lawns around it, viewing the film on screens. Their collective laughter, groans and cheers added greatly to the festivity of the occasion. (They also created huge traffic jams, both before and after the performance!)

Saturday, July 16

Another doubleheader day. First up was a rehearsal of Fazil Say’s appealing Phoenix (Anka Kusu), for piano four-hands and orchestra that would receive its American premiere the next day (when I had left). Nelsons initially focused on rhythmic patterns, explaining how he will count and conduct particular passages, and then had the BSO and soloists Lucas and Arthur Jussen play the Scherzo. Only then did he run through the entire piece. An interesting feature of the work was having one (and at one point both) of the soloists reach into the piano to mute some of the strings, producing odd sounds that lack the normal range of overtones. (Shades of John Cage and his prepared piano!) 

Joining the BSO for Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem were soprano Ying Fang, bass-baritone Shenyang and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. The choristers were very well prepared (by James Burton), so, Nelsons was able to run straight through the work, stopping only once to repeat a short passage midway through and pausing briefly for a comment to the musicians. Although a rehearsal, the soloists sang with full voice, or nearly so, and the glorious result was quite close to a concert performance. 

On this final day at Tanglewood, I took advantage of a sunny afternoon to take a walk to enjoy the beauty of the extensive grounds.

Shed

Tanglewood Music Festival 2022 – Andris Nelsons conducts Mozart’s Don Giovanni


This summer’s visit to Tanglewood has given me a still greater appreciation of how the future of music is shaped by succeeding generations of musicians. I had the pleasure of interacting with visiting artists and educators, BSO members, staff, commentators and, most significantly, young musicians at the beginning of their professional careers – all collaborating with one another.

Music for the End of Time – BBCSO Total Immersion – Theresienstadt

Music for the End of Time – BBCSO Total Immersion – Theresienstadt

Written by: Peter Reed

It is impossible to take in the scale and thoroughness of what happened in Theresienstadt (Terezín in Czech), the fortress town in Moravia that Nazi Germany recreated as a ghetto and concentration camp for thousands of Jews who either died from disease there or were moved on to the death-camps between 1941 and 1945. The Nazis also turned it into a propaganda tool to divert attention away from what was really going on there, giving the illusion of a flourishing cultural life, especially in music. And it was the music that was the subject of this BBC Symphony Orchestra Total Immersion day.

The Nazis’ ‘achievement’ at Theresienstadt was crowned by a cynicism that beggars belief, whereby they permitted music – the art in which German countries have excelled over the centuries – to thrive there, with gifted composers such as Pavel Haas, Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krása and Gideon Klein, natural successors to Berg, Janáček, Suk, Brahms and Dvořak. These composers, who perished in early middle age or younger, were at the heart of European music.

The first of the day’s two afternoon concerts opened with Hans Krása’s short Overture for Small Orchestra, written in the ghetto in 1943 for strings, two trumpets and two clarinets, plus a big concerto-like role for piano played with great élan by Philip Moore, the conductor Alpesh Chauhan steering Krása’s guileless tunes and perky orchestration with an objective and precise touch. Pavel Haas’s Study for String Orchestra (also written in 1943 in the ghetto) turned away from its opening carefree theme and sturdy counterpoint into a shadowy central section that deferred to his teacher Janáček and which could have suggested a reality at odds with the music’s use on the soundtrack for a Nazi propaganda film ‘The Führer gives a city to the Jews’.

The BBCSO’s strings were joined by full brass and woodwind for Erwin Schulhoff’s Symphony No.5. This Czech composer (born in 1894 who died of tuberculosis in 1942 in the Wülzburg camp) was not interned in Theresienstadt, but as his work became increasingly politicised in the 1930s – he set the Communist Manifesto as an oratorio – he inevitably attracted Nazi attention. He started on his Symphony No.5 in 1938, as tensions between Czechoslovakia and Germany tightened. It’s a brutal piece, recalling the spirit more of Mosolov in his Iron Foundry than of Shostakovich, with doom-laden timpani and Mahlerian side-drums on call throughout its thirty-five minutes. The music is a visceral soundtrack to wartime struggle aiming at a glorious conclusion, and Chauhan and the BBCSO neatly made the point that any neoclassical dalliances are squashed flat by the score’s industrial weight.

The second concert featured the BBC Singers directed by Nicholas Chalmers, with a linking narrative compiled and delivered by the baritone Simon Wallfisch, the grandson of the cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch who survived Auschwitz (she was in the audience), piano accompaniments from Iain Farrington, and music for string trio and quartet beautifully played by Hana Mizuta-Spencer and Melanie Gruwez (violins), Kate de Campos (viola) and William Clark-Maxwell (cello). There was no applause during the ninety-minute sequence that included music by Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein, Sylvie Bodorova and Pavel Haas. Chalmers’s lyrical direction showed off the BBC Singers completely at home with the languages, idioms and sentiment of the folksongs, Yiddish songs and Jewish sacred pieces, and the direct, uncompromising performances in this small-scale, intimate music gave an uncomfortably strong idea of the privations and perverted normality the Theresienstadt internees endured.

Wallfisch’s linking narrative included diary entries detailing the hidden birth of a child (procreation was forbidden), ending with a description of the small family’s preparation for their final journey to Auschwitz. The BBC Singers fielded two uncredited, immensely stylish cabaret chanteuses in songs by Dieter Gogg and Ullmann, Wallfisch broke hearts in the Lacrymosa extract from the Requiem for Terezín, composed in 1997 by Sylvie Bodorova (born 1954). She combines elements of Verdi’s Requiem with synagogue chant, a reference to the Verdi being performed many times at Theresienstadt, a fact that again beggars belief. The string players were formidable in Klein’s String Trio, a very powerful, personal – and final – work written in 1944 when Klein was twenty-four, just four years after he had been offered a scholarship by the Royal Academy of Music. He had assimilated the influences of Schoenberg and Janáček, the latter movingly deployed in the variations of the slow movement, played with great tenderness by the three musicians. The four players also threw themselves into the last movement, ‘Wild Night’, of Pavel Haas’s Quartet No.2, ‘From the Monkey Mountains’, possibly the only Quartet with a role for percussion, which Bogdan Skrypka delivered in great style.

Skrypka also signed off the programme in Iain Farrington’s arrangement of the closing number from Ullmann’s opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis, with a drum-roll recalling the very end of the film Cabaret, the camera lingering on the denizens of the Kit Kat Club, some of them sporting swastika armbands.

Ullmann’s opera (Peter Kien’s libretto sung in German, with English surtitles) was the first of the two works in the third concert. A reckless political satire written in 1943, Der Kaiser von Atlantis amazingly got as far as being rehearsed in Theresienstadt, but the character of the Emperor was too obvious a parody of Hitler. The production was terminated, as were the cast and composer. In its twenty numbers, the Emperor decrees death for all; Death goes on strike so that no-one can die. People are even falling in love. Death’s one condition for going back to work is the Emperor’s demise. Things return to normal. The performance was semi-staged with great clarity by Kenneth Richardson, and conductor Josep Pons and his quirky ensemble of fourteen players (including parts for banjo, harmonium, alto sax and harpsichord) went for the Weill-like irony with a will, relishing Ullmann’s contorted version of the ‘Deutschland über alles’ tune and his biting reworking of Luther’s ‘Ein’ feste Burg’ chorale to suit the words “Come, death, our worthy guest”, the latter inevitably casting a long, sad shadow. Ullmann had nothing left to lose.

The cast of seven singers ramped up the absurdist element admirably. Henry Waddington (Death) and Thomas Johannes Mayer (Kaiser Überalles) were a fine and strongly sung double-act, Morecambe & Wise with no sunshine; Derrick Ballard produced a huge sound as Loudspeaker; Robert Murray a very jittery Harlequin; Soraya Mafi and Oliver Johnston as the two lovebirds, both particularly affecting; and Hanna Hipp on sizzling form as the Drummer Girl. All the singers hit the music’s idiom with natural authority and, for all its bluster, great warmth.

For the sheer malignity of the Nazis’ Theresienstadt project, all the music so far squared up to matters of life and death with an extraordinary engagement, whereas Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, the final work of the day, is to do with disengagement. Despite the composer’s first-hand experience as a prisoner-of-war, the work just wasn’t an act of completion or redemption. It was, though, played by Cara Doyle (clarinet), Sabine Sergejeva (violin), Ben Tarlton (cello) and Ben Smith (piano) – all from the Guildhall School – with ferocious intensity, high imagination and what seemed effortlessly controlled virtuosity. But this is not the place to air my mounting misgivings about Messiaen.The Total Immersion however was a triumph, the best of the BBC. The first concert is being broadcast on March 11; the second is currently unscheduled but should not be missed; the Ullmann opera is also being broadcast on March 11.

Cumbria Opera Festival's production of Mozart's Così fan tutte. Photograph: Christopher Tribble

Cumbria Opera Festival – Roderick Williams, Trouble in Tahiti, A Hand of Bridge, and Così fan tutte

Written by: Jane Bagot & Colin Marston

Here are three reviews (the first two from Jane Bagot, the last from Colin Marston) of concerts that took place as part of Cumbria Opera Group’s first ever Cumbria Opera Festival.

Roderick Williams & Christopher Glynn at Penrith Wordsworth Street Church, Saturday 4th September 2021

An enthralling and spellbinding concert of song opened the Cumbria Opera Festival, much to the delight of the audience. What could be a better way of showcasing live music? The baritone Roderick Williams performing such a vibrant and imaginatively constructed programme proved the point. The theme of the wanderer or vagabond threaded its way through a range of English and German song repertoire. Williams’s velvety tones and razor-sharp diction communicated perfectly. Spearheading the concert was Schubert’s Der Wanderer, deftly accompanied by pianist Christopher Glynn. Throughout the evening his nuanced playing and measured timings between songs allowed for the drama of the poems to unfold.

Nostalgia for the English countryside underpins the delicate songs of Ivor Gurney, who composed them whilst in the trenches in World War One. Then came a set of four songs by John Ireland delivered with a powerful explosion of emotion by singer and pianist alike. Angst and joy were the overriding emotions in Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayferer). After the interval, nowhere was the rich versatility of Williams’s voice more apparent than in an excerpt from Wagner’s Siegfried which segued subtly into Vaughan Williams’s ‘The Bird’s Song’ from The Pilgrim’s Progress. This composer’s Songs of Travel concluded an uplifting and magical concert.

Jazz Opera Double Bill at Kendal Town Hall, Sunday 5th September 2021

Cumbria Opera Group gave sparkling performances of Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti (1951) and Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge (1958). Both jazz operas were strongly supported by the orchestra, led by its inspiring artistic director, Joe Davies.

The cast for Trouble in Tahiti had the vocal trio, Kerran Cotterell, Alexander Joseph and Jemimah Taylor, functioning as a contemporary Greek chorus. Dinah and Sam were played fantastically by Helsa Townsend and Chris Murphy, respectively. The trio blended the close harmonies  beautifully as they evoked radio commercials of the era. The slick choreography, spot-on jazz rhythms, and spirited acting were the perfect foil to the uneasy realism of Sam and Dinah’s troubled marriage. The two protagonists delivered their melodic lines with clarity and emotion. Sam’s rich baritone voice was perfect for the part. Dinah’s aria ‘There is a Garden’ was heartfelt, melodic and colourful.

A Hand of Bridge, another jazz influenced, nine-minute, opera, was equally entertaining as it explored the four card players’ deepest and darkest emotions in individual monologues. Helsa Townsend (Geraldine), Jack Dolan (Bill), Holly Teague (Geraldine) and Chris Murphy (David) gave convincing performances. The sets in both operas worked superbly. The former evoking the perfect picture of 1950s suburbia; the latter reflecting the dark emotions of each card player. The authentic costumes gave a 1950s flavour, and the lighting effects were excellent. Director Jonny Danciger created a special production.

Così fan tutte at St Andrew’s Church, Penrith, Friday 10th September 2021

The inaugural Cumbria Opera Festival came to an exhilarating conclusion with this superb performance of Mozart’s Così fan tutte in St. Andrew’s Church, Penrith. In its previous incarnation as Eden Valley Opera, Joe Davies’s gifted band of young musicians had brought us operas from the baroque period by Purcell, John Blow and Handel.

In many ways Così fan tutte is an ideal choice for a small company. At the centre of the plot are six singers: four young lovers; a maid (with quite a number of strings to her bow); and a scheming manipulator, intent on proving that women will always betray their lovers.

Ross Cumming (Guglielmo). Jack Dolan (Ferrando), Myrna Tennant (Fiordiligi) and Samantha Lewis (Dorabella) were excellent in their role as the four young lovers, whose paths, in true operatic manner, become entangled by intrigue and seduction before reaching a successful outcome. Both in solo arias and in the numerous ensemble passages in the work, all four succeeded with the challenges of Mozart’s elaborate Italian style.

Helen Teague added many comic touches to the role of Despina, and Jonathan Hill was equally fine as the manipulative Don Alfonso, singing with the great authority and clear diction that this key role needs. The orchestra, seated in the church’s side chapel, began with an uplifting account of the Overture, and offered assured support throughout. The chorus is used little compared with other Mozart operas but, seated high in the gallery, it gave an effective contribution.

Persia Babayan-Taylor’s production was full of imaginative and comic touches, but the greatest credit must go the musical director, Joe Davies, not only for his confident control of the many diverse musical elements of the work, but also for bringing together such a fine team of young musicians. Those who have attended the workshops, recitals and operas of the Festival week will look forward immensely to further delights in the years ahead.

Image: Cumbria Opera Festival’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte; photographer Christopher Tribble

Feature LP Review – Tchaikovsky|Fischer|Kreizberg; Nopigom|Hwang; Tchaikovsky|Leningrad|Mravinsky

Written by: Rob Pennock

Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D, Op.35; Sérénade mélancolique, Op.26; Valse-Scherzo, Op.34; Souvenir d’un lieu cher, Op.42*

Julia Fischer (violin), Russian National Orchestra, Yakov Kreizberg (conductor & piano*)

Recorded at DZZ Studio 5 & MCO Studio 5, Hilversum in April 2006
Pentatone 2 x 180gm LP: PTC 5186804
⭐⭐

Darha Nopigom – Gayageum Masterpieces, Vol. 5
Byungki Hwang – Darha Nopigom; Jasi (Night Watch); Sigyyetap (The Clock Tower); Nakdoeum; Hamadan; Chahyangije (Two Poems on the Fragrance of Tea); Moon of My Hometown; Chucheonsa (Swinging Song); Chimhyang-moo

Byungki Hwang & Jiyoung Yi (gayageum), Chungsu Kim (janggu), Chongjin Hong (daegeum), Yoongeong Heo (geomungo), Kwonsoon Kang (vocals)

C&L Music 2 x 180gm LPs: CNLR 1913
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tchaikovsky – Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36; Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64; Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)

Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Evgeny Mravinsky

Recorded at Wembley Town Hall & the Musikverein Vienna in September and November 1960
Analogphonic 3LPs 180gm: LP43092
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Pentatone only recently started producing LPs, and this 2006 digital album features the popular Julia Fischer, who, in the Concerto’s first movement, adopts a forward moving tempo with some variation, but there is also a decided lack of tension and emotional engagement. She fares slightly better in a flowing account of the Canzonetta where the woodwind are suitably plangent, but again there is no real feeling. The finale is very fast, Kreizberg brings balletic finesse to the accompaniment and Fischer seems to be enjoying herself. But here as throughout the score, Boris Belkin, Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia (Decca) go gloriously OTT as they revel in the wonderful melodies, they clearly feel the music and the fill-ups are similarly bland.

Compared to what the great recording engineer Ken Wilkinson provided for Belkin in 1977 the sound is nothing special; the Pentatone lacking its presence, tangible acoustic signature, clarity and beautifully captured instrumental timbres. However with Fischer the LP offers a civilising influence, sounding less synthetic than the DSD64 it was compared to and no doubt Fischer’s army of admirers will want this.

Many westerners will know little of the vibrant musical cultures of the East. The traditional music of South Korea found in Darha Nopigomuses 12 note scales, but the pitch and intervals are different to their western equivalent, as are the ‘modes’ used to determine the key, which along with rhythmic flexibility and the way the instruments are strung lends the music an other-worldly quality.    

As the superb sleeve notes explain Byungki Hwang (1936-2018) was a celebrated composer and performer who plays a 12 or 17 string gayageum on three of the tracks. There is also a geomungo (zither), an hour glass shaped drum the janggu, a daegeum (flute) and three numbers with vocals. The music is immensely varied, using traditional material and more contemporary idioms, but even in the faster sections there is an underlying current of quiet contemplation and this really is an exceptional album, full of beautiful music, beautifully performed, although Kwonsoon Kang’s intonation can be awry.    

The LPs are identical to a digital album published in 2007 with the addition of the last track recorded at the composer’s home in 2016. The lacquers were cut from 24/192 digital masters, which explains why the sound is so good, with plenty of body, projection, depth, clarity and definition where instrumental timbres are vividly realised, although the overall balance is slightly too forward and the daegeum sounds more digital than the other instruments.

Finally we have Analogphonic’s remastering of Mravinsky’s classic stereo versions of the last three numbered Symphonies of Tchaikovsky, recorded in London and Vienna in 1960. What makes them so memorable is the way Mravinsky sculpts beautiful melodic lines without ever indulging in the sentimental histrionics as so many lesser conductors do. He constructs shattering climaxes, delineates instrumental lines, and springs the rhythms often within challengingly fast tempos. He builds and maintains tension, and in 1960 the Leningrad Philharmonic was one of the world’s greatest orchestras, who produced a quintessentially Russian sound.

In terms of the sound the overall balance is middle-distance with plenty of space around the orchestra. On both the Analogphonic and first label discs the sound-stage is broad and deep, and you get some idea of the orchestra’s power and huge projection. The new pressings however have greater weight, the string sound is more defined, and the LPs in their original sleeves are housed in an elegant slide-in box.

Feature LP Review – Beethoven|Cello Sonatas|Mainardi|Zecchi; Milstein Recital|Bussotti; Leonard-Morgan|American Dharma

Written by: Rob Pennock

Beethoven – The Cello Sonatas; Seven Variations on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe’ from Die Zauberflöte, WoO.46

Enrico Mainardi (cello) & Carlo Zecchi (piano)

Recorded at the Beethovensaal, Hanover in October 1955 and May 1956
Analogphonic 3 x 180gm mono LP boxed set: LP43153
⭐⭐⭐

Milstein Recital
Gallo – Trio Sonata No.12 in E major (attributed Pergolesi; transcribed Alessandro Longo)
Schumann & Brahms – Intermezzo in F & Allegro in C minor from composite F.A.E Sonata written for Joseph Joachim
Suk – 4 Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op.17 – IV: Burleska
Bloch – Baal shem – Nigun; Three Pictures of Hassidic Life for Violin and Piano
Milstein – Paganiniana – Variations for unaccompanied violin

Nathan Milstein (violin) & Carlo Bussotti (piano)

Recorded at Capitol Studio A, New York in December 1953 & January 1954
Analogphonic 180gm LP: LP43090
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Paul Leonard-Morgan – American Dharma [film soundtrack]

Ross Hamilton & Rupert Coulson (guitars) & Dylan Gentile (vocals)

Recorded at Capitol and Palm Studios, Los Angeles
2 x 180gm LPs available from Light in the Attic Records
⭐⭐⭐

Enrico Mainardi and Nathan Milstein are Analogphonic favourite, and here the former essays the world’s greatest cello sonatas with the virtually forgotten Carlo Zecchi. The first Sonata (opus 5/1) combines forward movement and rhythmic subtlety with singing lines in a genuine partnership of equals. In the Second (opus 5/2), Mainardi’s intonation can be awry, his phrasing and attack more circumspect, and, while the Third (opus 69) is very good, it lacks Pierre Fournier and Friedrich Gulda’s (HDTT) flair and command. The two late Sonatas (opus 102) elicit a deeper response. Indeed, in their hands, the C-major Sonata could be entitled quasi una fantasia, the changes of mood and tempo in the D-major are expertly integrated, and Zecchi is always Mainardi’s equal, although Fournier’s magisterial eloquence is even more compelling.

The sound is very good with plenty of bass, a sweet treble. Very unusually for that era Mainardi is only slightly favoured in terms of internal balance, and the acoustic of the Beethovensaal, Hanover, is well-captured.  If you wanted the three original LPs they cost around £1,750 or more for complete sets, and don’t come in the beautiful box Analogphonic provide. Having compared a first label LPM 18354 (Op.102 Sonatas) with the new discs the latter are fuller toned and more defined.      

Turning to Milstein on this 1953/4 recital he offers a typical mixture of Baroque through to modern played with considerable depth of feeling in the Bloch, quiet elegance and effortless virtuosity. Sound-wise he dominates the image, both instruments have plenty of body and his unique timbre is well-caught within a middle-distance balance. Compared to an original LP the new one has a better dynamic range and is cleaner sounding, and you don’t have to worry about condition or availability.

The Scottish composer Paul Leonard-Morgan is highly thought of by the industry and film-goers. However, in Errol Morris’s American Dharma the director ineffectually interviews the American far-right ideologue Steve Bannon about his time as Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign manager and the like, so there is no story-line to build a musical narrative around, which causes Leonard-Morgan problems.

His compositional style fuses electronica with orchestra, and here he occasionally uses a throbbing heavy bass-line and several guitars. The short tracks often feature slow, minor-key influenced motor rhythms in common-time, where the two octaves either side of middle C predominate. Several are outstanding – American Dharma and Fear of the Unknown bring to mind, without any sense of copying, John Adams’s later works, while Falstaff and A Revolution is Coming merge to create a beautifully reverberant soundscape, initially with echoes of Game of Thrones – but there is also, devoid of visual and verbal pointers, a sense of aimlessness and it is difficult to see this as absolute music.

DVD soundtracks are recorded in 24/48 and I was sent downloads in this format along with the LPs. Unfortunately, commercially you can only get the album in 16/44.1 CD quality, which is no more than adequate and completely outclassed by the LPs, which have far more space, a clearer sense of distance and perspective, instrumental and synthetic timbres are more realistic

Feature LP Review – van der Aa|Time Falling; Massenet|Birmingham|Fremaux; Biber|Rosenkranz-Sonaten

Written by: Rob Pennock

Michel van der Aa – Time Falling

Kate-Miller Heidke (singer), Netherlands Chamber Choir, Michel van der Aa & Thijs de Vlieger

Recorded at Exalto Studios, Haarlem, 2019

Limited edition two 45rpm LPs from timefalling.com
⭐⭐⭐⭐

Massenet – Le Cid – ballet music; Scènes Pittoresques; La Vierge – The Last Sleep of the Virgin

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Louis Fremaux

Recorded at the Great Hall of Birmingham University in 1971

Speakers Corner 180gm LP: TWO 350
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Biber – Rosenkranz-Sonaten

Eduard Melkus & Alfred Planyavsky (violin), Huguette Dreyfus (cembalo), Lionel Rogg (organ), Karl Scheit (lute), Gerald Sonneck (cello & gambe), Hans-Jürg Lange (baroque flute)

Recorded at Studio Wien-Film, Rosenhügel, Vienna in March 1967
Analogphonic 2 x 180gm LPs: LP43166
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Time Falling is the fêted Dutch composer Michel van der Aa’s first venture into Indie-pop, inspired by the likes of Borges and Lorca. Many of the tracks are reflective, with echoes of Palestrina, mood and church music, and throughout there is syncopation, cross-rhythms, counterpoint, beautifully layered textures, the dynamic range is extended at mezzo forte and below, but subdued above it, and Kate-Miller Heidke is an integral part of the image as opposed to a lead-singer. One or two things for me don’t quite work. In track 2 the music doesn’t match the Queen of the Night’s words. The same happens in I Think of Fire, which is about a woman hovering between life and death after a car crash; the tempo is too fast, the rhythm too insistent, the expression too smooth to convey this. Nonetheless, this is a major album, which should appeal to classical as well as Indie fans.

The album was cut from 24/96 masters, and the 45rpm cutting speed helps clarity and definition and you get a far more vibrant soundstage with plenty of body. The presentation is superb, with a vibrant gatefold sleeve housing one black and one white LP, a full size insert with pictures, the lyrics, and production information are on the fold-out.

The Massenet features brilliant performances by an orchestra Louis Fremaux transformed into a world-class band. Fremaux loved Massenet, and in the seven dances from Le Cid the way he springs the rhythms, moulds the wonderful melodies, delineates line and texture and drives home climaxes is a joy to hear. And one can say much the same about the equally gorgeous Scènes Pittoresque and The Last Sleep of the Virgin.

There are two versions of the LP, the Quadraphonic and the standard two channel one you get here, with a reverberant acoustic, pretty forward overall balance, loads of presence and projection, crashing timpani, blaring brass and woodwind that paradoxically float in a fixed space. It’s all very unnatural, but as hi-fi sound it’s brilliant, and the Speakers Corner remastering has even more impact than the original.

Heinrich Biber’s Rosary Sonatas are unusual in that only in the first of the fifteen pieces and the final solo Passacaglia is the violin tuned in standard fifths, and so concert performances are rare, although the explosion of interest in early music has spawned numerous recordings, so where does this 1968 double album stand stylistically? Well everything is beautifully crafted, the tempos are never extreme, the rhythms sculpted, but flexible, Melkus and his companions never utter an ugly sound and their quiet eloquence is highly compelling.  Archiv were hardly Decca, so what you hear is pleasant sound with a middle-distance overall balance and some sense of depth within a low reverberation acoustic. Clarity and definition are reasonable and the overall effect is warmly homogenous, especially when compared to the horrible CDs and MP3 downloads that are available, while the superb booklet contains a list of each of the Sonatas tuning and instrumentation.

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